LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "Jon & Kate Plus 8" returned to TLC on Monday with two new episodes. In one, Jon managed the renovation of the kitchen cabinets while Kate and the kids go to the beach; in the other, Kate took the kids camping and tried to start a fire by herself.
"Will the demands of outdoor camping be too much for Kate, or will a campout with eight kids prove to be surprisingly fun?" reads the description.
Of all the questions wondered by the millions of "Jon & Kate" viewers, that one is ... yeah ... not on the list.
TLC promotes "Jon & Kate" as a show about better parenting through product placement. But the hefty 4.2 million viewers who tuned in to the premiere wanted to glean tidbits about the parents' adult relationships. The Gosselins know it. The media sure know it. The only party that seems oblivious is TLC.
"The show has always been about the parents' relationship with their children. This is a family show," TLC president Eileen O'Neill recently told television critics.
She did dramatically announce there would be one major change to the series' format. Henceforth, Jon and Kate will be interviewed in separate chairs.
"The iconic couch is gone," she said.
Holy crap -- not the couch!
Whole marriage falls apart, Jon is flying to St. Tropez with a 22-year-old, magazine covers everywhere are focused on every new detail about this shattered family, and TLC ... nervously changes the furniture.
Never before has a reality show demonstrated such an allergic reaction to its own high drama. If this was a bank robbery, "Jon & Kate" producers would be shooting a documentary about the bank's savings account interest rates. ("Sure, we know viewers are interested in the robbery, but this project has always been about savings account interest rates.")
Meanwhile judgmental finger-waggers slam the show, such as the current US Weekly: "Kate's Sad Kids," reads the cover, "Shame on the Gosselins; How the 8 are suffering as Dad humiliates the family and mom keeps using them for fame and money."
OK, hold on. TLC is blessing these kids with a pampered upbringing that few in the world could ever hope to enjoy. It's admittedly a bit embarrassing to have your childhood telecast before you're old enough to understand the consequences, though it seems far from traumatizing, especially in our privacy-is-dead-long-live-the-Internet era.
The perception that the show is somehow bad for the kids could become an issue, however. The Gosselin parents appear to guard much of their own privacy from the cameras, while their kids remain onstage through a difficult period. It's not wrong. It just feels a tad, um, wrong.
Point being: TLC could solve two problems at once by downgrading the amount of time the Gosselin kids are on camera and make "Jon & Kate" more about the grown-ups.
Not saying the kids shouldn't remain a part of the show, but ... perhaps ... less.
It would give many viewers what they want -- a broader and more realistic look at this family -- while clamping down on any criticism that the kids are reality show cannon fodder.
TLC says "this is a family show." But it's also a show about a family.
The family has significantly changed. The show should too.
Editing by dean.goodman at Reuters